Subseasonal Variability of U.S. Coastal Sea Level from MJO and ENSO Teleconnection Interference

Marybeth C. Arcodia aRosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
bColorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Emily Becker cCooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science, Miami, Florida

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Ben P. Kirtman aRosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
cCooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science, Miami, Florida

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Abstract

Climate variability affects sea levels as certain climate modes can accelerate or decelerate the rising sea level trend, but subseasonal variability of coastal sea levels is underexplored. This study is the first to investigate how remote tropical forcing from the MJO and ENSO impact subseasonal U.S. coastal sea level variability. Here, composite analyses using tide gauge data from six coastal regions along the U.S. East and West Coasts reveal influences on sea level anomalies from both the MJO and ENSO. Tropical MJO deep convection forces a signal that results in U.S. coastal sea level anomalies that vary based on MJO phase. Further, ENSO is shown to modulate both the MJO sea level response and background state of the teleconnections. The sea level anomalies can be significantly enhanced or weakened by the MJO-associated anomaly along the East Coast due to constructive or destructive interference with the ENSO-associated anomaly, respectively. The West Coast anomaly is found to be dominated by ENSO. We examine physical mechanisms by which MJO and ENSO teleconnections impact coastal sea levels and find consistent relationships between low-level winds and sea level pressure that are spatially varying drivers of the variability. Two case studies reveal how MJO and ENSO teleconnection interference played a role in notable coastal flooding events. Much of the focus on sea level rise concerns the long-term trend associated with anthropogenic warming, but on shorter time scales, we find subseasonal climate variability has the potential to exacerbate the regional coastal flooding impacts.

Significance Statement

Coastal flooding due to sea level rise is increasingly threatening communities, but natural fluctuations of coastal sea levels can exacerbate the human-caused sea level rise trend. This study assesses the role of tropical influences on coastal subseasonal (2 weeks–3 months) sea level heights. Further, we explore the mechanisms responsible, particularly for constructive interference of signals contributing to coastal flooding events. Subseasonal signals amplify or suppress the lower-frequency signals, resulting in higher or lower sea level heights than those expected from known climate modes (e.g., ENSO). Low-level onshore winds and reduced sea level pressure connected to the tropical phenomena are shown to be indicators of increased U.S. coastal sea levels, and vice versa. Two case studies reveal how MJO and ENSO teleconnection interference played a role in notable coastal flooding events. Much of the focus on sea level rise concerns the long-term trend associated with anthropogenic warming, but on shorter time scales, we find subseasonal climate variability has the potential to exacerbate the regional coastal flooding impacts.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Marybeth C. Arcodia, marcodia@earth.miami.edu

Abstract

Climate variability affects sea levels as certain climate modes can accelerate or decelerate the rising sea level trend, but subseasonal variability of coastal sea levels is underexplored. This study is the first to investigate how remote tropical forcing from the MJO and ENSO impact subseasonal U.S. coastal sea level variability. Here, composite analyses using tide gauge data from six coastal regions along the U.S. East and West Coasts reveal influences on sea level anomalies from both the MJO and ENSO. Tropical MJO deep convection forces a signal that results in U.S. coastal sea level anomalies that vary based on MJO phase. Further, ENSO is shown to modulate both the MJO sea level response and background state of the teleconnections. The sea level anomalies can be significantly enhanced or weakened by the MJO-associated anomaly along the East Coast due to constructive or destructive interference with the ENSO-associated anomaly, respectively. The West Coast anomaly is found to be dominated by ENSO. We examine physical mechanisms by which MJO and ENSO teleconnections impact coastal sea levels and find consistent relationships between low-level winds and sea level pressure that are spatially varying drivers of the variability. Two case studies reveal how MJO and ENSO teleconnection interference played a role in notable coastal flooding events. Much of the focus on sea level rise concerns the long-term trend associated with anthropogenic warming, but on shorter time scales, we find subseasonal climate variability has the potential to exacerbate the regional coastal flooding impacts.

Significance Statement

Coastal flooding due to sea level rise is increasingly threatening communities, but natural fluctuations of coastal sea levels can exacerbate the human-caused sea level rise trend. This study assesses the role of tropical influences on coastal subseasonal (2 weeks–3 months) sea level heights. Further, we explore the mechanisms responsible, particularly for constructive interference of signals contributing to coastal flooding events. Subseasonal signals amplify or suppress the lower-frequency signals, resulting in higher or lower sea level heights than those expected from known climate modes (e.g., ENSO). Low-level onshore winds and reduced sea level pressure connected to the tropical phenomena are shown to be indicators of increased U.S. coastal sea levels, and vice versa. Two case studies reveal how MJO and ENSO teleconnection interference played a role in notable coastal flooding events. Much of the focus on sea level rise concerns the long-term trend associated with anthropogenic warming, but on shorter time scales, we find subseasonal climate variability has the potential to exacerbate the regional coastal flooding impacts.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Marybeth C. Arcodia, marcodia@earth.miami.edu
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